Even after obtaining a disabled parking placard, I didn’t immediately think much about accessible parking spaces. If spaces were available, I could decide whether I needed to take advantage of the parking closer to my destination. If no spaces were available, then I had no choice but to find another spot nearby.
It’s only in recent years that I’ve begun to notice the different types of accessible spaces in parking lots. There are regular accessible spaces, intended for vehicles such as sedans, and “van-accessible” spaces, intended for larger vehicles equipped with wheelchair ramps or lifts. A special requirement of van-accessible spaces is the adjacent access aisle that accommodates wheelchair ramps or lifts. The access aisle is often painted with hatch marks to discourage parking in this space.
According to the ADA National Network, the minimum width of accessible spaces is 8 feet, while van-accessible spaces should be 11-feet-wide. Access aisles are 5-feet-wide and can be shared between two spaces to provide extra room for the deployment of vehicle-mounted wheelchair lifts or the unloading of wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility devices. An alternate design allows a van-accessible space to be 8-feet-wide IF the adjacent access aisle is also 8-feet-wide.
Do NOT park on the hatch marks
Karen, a friend of mine who uses a motorized wheelchair, drives an accessible van. With a push on her key fob, the side door of her van opens, and a metal ramp unfolds. To maneuver in and out of her van, she needs the extra “hatch space” to use the ramp. Too often she will carefully park within the boundaries of a van-accessible parking space to later return and find that someone else has carelessly parked in the access aisle.
When this happens Karen has limited actions. She can go into the nearest business and try to find the driver of the offending vehicle and ask him/her to kindly move their car. She can call the police to help her move her van to an area with enough room that she can safely access the ramp. Or, if she is not alone, she can rely upon a friend to move her van. That’s what happened when we recently met for dinner at a local restaurant. Someone had parked over the hatch marks, which prevented her from being able to maneuver onto her ramp to get in her van. It was very frustrating, but I’m glad that we were nearby to help.
Since this incident, I’ve started looking at how people with valid disabled parking placards typically park in the accessible parking spaces. What I’ve seen is shocking. It seems like few people truly respect the access aisle and many fail to park within the boundaries of the actual parking space. Perhaps it’s a matter of people being ignorant of the intended use of the access aisle, or maybe people feel entitled to park however they wish, or maybe people are just careless.
The above photo was taken in the parking lot in front of my local grocery store. You may notice that there are four van-accessible parking spaces. However, based on the way two sedans are parked nose-to-nose, no one driving an equipped van would be able to use either of the remaining spaces. It’s important to realize that handicapped individuals who use motorized wheelchairs and drive equipped vans need the full 16 feet to maneuver safely.
Here’s my thought. While we fight stigma about using handicapped spaces, we should also gently spread awareness of the need to respect painted crosshatches on the access aisles. Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to park responsibly and ensure that more people with accessible needs can get around safely and with less hassle.
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Lisa Emrich is a patient advocate, accomplished speaker, author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa uses her experience to educate patients, raise disease awareness, encourage self-advocacy, and support patient-centered research. Lisa frequently works with non-profit organizations and has brought the patient voice to health care conferences and meetings worldwide. Follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.